Blinken says US withdrawal from Afghanistan will concentrate the minds of 'free riders' in the region

Washington Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on Tuesday that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will concentrate the minds of “free riders” in the region about their interests in keeping the country stable.

Blinken spoke with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who asked him to respond to concerns that President Joe Biden’s plans to withdraw US forces from the country by September 11 could create a vacuum that leads to civil war or another Taliban takeover.
“That is certainly a possible scenario,” Blinken said, adding that “no one has an interest in renewed civil war in Afghanistan, certainly the Afghan people don’t. Neither the Afghan government or the Taliban do, none of Afghanistan’s neighbors do, neighbors and other countries in the region that have basically been free riders for the last 20 years, as we’ve been engaged there with our NATO allies and partners.”
    Those countries “are now going to have to decide, given their interests in a relatively stable Afghanistan, given the influence that they have, whether they’re going to try to use that influence in a way that keeps things within the 40-yard lines,” Blinken said. “So a lot of people are having their minds concentrated by the President’s decision.”

      ‘Not disengaging’

        Blinken emphasized that even as the US is withdrawing its forces, “we are not disengaging from Afghanistan, we’re remaining deeply engaged in the diplomacy in support for the Afghan government and its people, development, economic assistance humanitarian assistance, support for the security forces.”
        Blinken spoke to CNN shortly after senators from both parties expressed their concerns during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the US withdrawal will lead to a Taliban resurgence, reverse gains made by Afghan women and civil society, and endanger American hostages in the country and Afghans who worked with US forces.
          Biden announced earlier this month that the US would withdraw its remaining US forces in Afghanistan — just above 2,500, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said — bringing an end to nearly two decades of military involvement in the country by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which prompted the US involvement.
          Lawmakers held the hearing with Khalilzad shortly after the State Department ordered the departure of government employees from the US Embassy in Kabul “whose functions can be performed elsewhere” as the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan gets underway.
            On Sunday, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, commander of US Forces Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, confirmed that the US has begun to withdraw troops from the country in local areas. “All of our forces are now preparing to retrograde,” Miller told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.
            This story is breaking and will be updated.

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